October 07, 2011

The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Be warned! This book is very, very different from all the other books in the Little House on the Prairie series. In fact, this book makes it easy to see how embellished the other books are and the positive spin that was put on them. Because it was published after the death of Laura and her daughter, it is not quite complete as well. It was taken directly from Laura's notebooks that were found in her belongings after her death and barely any editing was done on them. That being said, this book isn't necessarily worse than the others, just entirely different. The rest of the books, for those who have no read them, detailed Laura Ingalls Wilder's childhood growing up and being a pioneer girl with her Ma, Pa, and three sisters.

The First Four Years details the first four years of Laura and Almanzo's (who she calls Manlly in this book) marriage. They set up house on his tree claim after agreeing to try farming for three years. The first year passes quickly they seem happy enough and even more so when Laura is expecting. They have a daughter, Rose, and Laura completely loves her and is quite devoted to her. They remain somewhat happy but do manage to have quite the disastourous next few years. It seems that everything bad that can happen, will happen. They have to suffer through crops being destroyed, illness and other hardships in those four years.

The characters in this are much changed from the other books. They are less like characters in this book and more like the real thing and its a little easier to see that Laura wrote from the heart and didn't try to make this an easy children's story. Its more of an outline with all the emotions she felt still showing. Manly is kind of distanced and doesn't seem to be as good with finances as he in in the other books. Laura is more mature but sadly leaves most of the decision to Manly.

The book is short and is more a series of little stories from those four years. It is still mostly appropriate for children although there are a few sections that made even me pause. This could be considered a spoiler for the book so do beware. The first thing that made me pause was the Boasts (friends of Laura's) that offered to give Laura and Manly their best horse for Rose when she was a baby. Being childless they were probably desperate but it was still a shock to read about the situation in the children's book. The next was the death of their son. Maybe it was just me, but I couldn't help but feel that Laura seemed almost relieved when it was back to being just her, Rose, and Almanzo. I'm sure she cared for the boy (who wasn't alive long enough to be named) but I just didn't get that emotion in the book. I also noticed that in the writing of this book, some facts contradicted what the other books had say, like Manly having a milk cow before Laura married him.

This book is still very important to read when it comes to the series. It is depressing and I can see why Laura never published it on her own, but it does explain a lot and continue her story. The entire series is a wonderful read and despite the tone of this book, it is vital to the collection.

The First Four Years
Copyright 1971
134 pages

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